Ways of Reckoning
this week, goes the one
commentator. The market
falling in on itself:
a face without bones.
The kitchen radio’s dusted with flour
or dust. It belonged
to my grandfather — a functional
radio, it doubles as clock.
Was existence always such a flimsy thing?
I ask my mother later, on the phone.
slept on newspapers
under the bridge sometimes.
My grandfather feared
influenza, insects, losing face.
When I can’t sleep, I think of him
in the past, in the cold.
Window where a radiator seethes.
at the airport. I’m watching and the anchor
calls it dismal pie: the jobless lined up —
their dark jackets, pumps, crisp
shirts so correct and out-of-place —
beyond the community gymnasium. A man
sobs into his cell phone.
Arc of the sprinkler
wetting a long lawn.
Three sparrows perch on the TV screen’s rim
here in the terminal. Those birds. How did they get in?
Did they enter through a disconnected
air bridge, flock fountaining outward?
Open, bright, air-
conditioned. Glass ceiling. The scissoring wings.
where the oleanders once thrived.
Now that’s a clean yard, he’d say.
I was a child, and newscasts
left no impression but the timbre of voices
beneath Mother’s knife, chopping onions.
print where, years ago,
doctors cut a cyst away. It’s only
a small lump, I’d thought
at the time, but nurses came for weeks
to fill the closing hole with gauze:
I never once looked, afraid of that
cavity’s depth, the pocket
my own body had concealed.
My grandfather squeezed
the snapdragon’s fluted throat
to make it speak.
someone else will, I reason.
It eases my conscience. Not unlike
the developer on yesterday’s news:
Why build new subdivisions now?
The abandoned ones,
he said, are outdated. Otherwise,
we lose buyers. Hedging out
competition is what we have to do.
In the desert, a grid of empty,
identical homes, lawns gone to scrub.
A moon appears
over the strict line of streetlamps, almost
transparent, useless as a pressed coin.
for years sometimes, but first,
says the assessor, I take an inventory: wrecked
sofa, lace curtains, refrigerator, shoes.
My grandfather lost his retirement
at the races one afternoon. Those sums
galloping off in a cloud of dust. He had immense
faith in his own luck, the next big winner
he’d put his money on, while every bet
ran through his fingers like cupped sugar.
finitude. I spent my vacation. He saved
himself time. The cost of civilian lives rises
daily. The price we pay.
When I moved to Phoenix
the city was spacious and burning
with light. My loneliness would
interpose itself after dinner
between the wall
and dimming window.
I’d drive anywhere and be
idling in a strip mall’s nimbus.
Other shoppers and I — we were in this
together. It was good. I was always
approved, with a swipe.
My grandfather loved the bright
peony in my grandmother’s black hat
the day they met. If it weren’t for that peony
I might not be here.
never recounted: her first husband’s insanity,
the things my grandfather did to her —
My grandmother’s mind
closed in, eventually, a draw-string bag
whose dark, satin lining held
a panoply of stories we’d never heard. Brittle
photographs surface in my mother’s house,
illustrations of a stranger’s life.
My door’s always open, except
when it’s closed.
condos when that old friend proposed.
Tower that might climb forever,
cranes, scaffolds. Two years later
he’s gone. The tower remains,
interrupted, bankrupt. Half of the rooms
are glassed in. Half gape into air.
The man who bankrolled the tower
had thought to make a killing. Instead,
he dove from the upper floor
late one night — or shot himself? (Rumors
are all we know).
shopping cluster to subdivision,
the valley floor thickening with concrete
and plots of unnatural green—and run on,
unconcluded, in lines that buckle with heat.
My grandfather and his cousin
tussled with an axe once
on the front steps. Grandmother found them
swiping and lunging, both too drunk —
what luck — to strike their mark.about the author